How Important Is Strict Paleo Adherence?

It the diet and fitness world, the paleo diet has been spreading like wildfire over the last few years. It’s easy to understand why – it’s a fairly simple approach to nutrition, makes a lot of sense and, quite simply, it works well for the vast majority of people.

Despite the basic concept of the diet being fairly straightforward, the paleo community is divided into so many different subsections that it’s impossible to keep track of who’s advocating what any more. It seems to change depending on the audience of whatever blog you happen to be reading at the time, but there tend to be common threads throughout them all – get plenty of quality meat and fish, avoid grains, most dairy and legumes, stick with natural sugars and generally avoid processed food.

The benefits of the framework

Putting aside the anthropological arguments around this approach to eating, the paleo approach to eating is far healthier than what most people eat day-to-day. Cutting out garbage food and eating more plants and animals will make a massive difference to the way most people look and feel, and the clear and simple rules of paleo make it very easy for people to understand.

Taking away the option of bad food choices prevents people from making bad food choices, and for those with little understanding of nutrition, the paleo diet is ideal. But once you understand what good choices are and how different food impacts your health and wellbeing, is strict paleo adherence really necessary?

The answer, as with all things diet-related, is highly personal. For your average couch potato office worker the paleo diet, in its most basic form, will work wonders. Sedentary people don’t need to concern themselves as much with replacing muscle glycogen stores, and maintaining liver glycogen stores can be done comfortably for most people on around 100g of carbs a day.

Fuelling your workouts

Those who partake in regular exercise, however, may find that they struggle to find that extra bit of energy during their workouts – at least after the initial ‘feel-good factor’ of going paleo has worn off. From there it’s a case of adding and subtracting the right kinds of carb-rich food to help fuel your workouts without sliding back into the world of high fructose corn syrup and suchlike.

The addition of some starchy foods around your workouts will help to refuel those glycogen stores without putting you at risk of stacking on pounds of fat. Avoiding sugar/gluten-rich foods leaves starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and rice as the ideal accompaniment to the standard paleo framework, and will give you the energy to really blast through those daily workouts.

The modern caveman

This more relaxed approach to paleo for gym-goers also extends to the use of sports supplements like whey protein and BCAA’s. Archeologists are yet to turn up the first-ever shaker cup, so it’s hard to be 100% sure, but it’s fairly safe to assume your average caveman didn’t have access to modern sports nutrition. But in the same way, we’ve reaped the benefits of scientific progress in pretty much every other area of our lives, surely there’s a case to be made for including at least a few modern creations in our diets?

Do the right thing most of the time

There will always be a hardcore element in every health and fitness movement, and if that works for them then that’s fine. For the vast majority of the population, this kind of rigid adherence is not only undesirable but it’s often next to impossible.

Doing the right thing 80-90% of the time will yield massive results for just about everybody, and in that respect, the paleo approach to eating is the perfect framework for people who lack sufficient nutritional knowledge to make good choices themselves. And if they have the odd sandwich or bar of chocolate it’s probably not going to kill them, as long as they’re making good choices most of the time.


  • Updated May 26, 2020
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